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October 14, 2019

Judges in 3 states block Trump admin's 'public charge' rule

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    Federal judges in three states on Friday temporarily blocked a final rule issued by the Trump administration that would allow federal officials to consider whether immigrants are receiving or are likely to receive Medicaid or other public benefits when reviewing their residency applications.


    The 837-page final rule, which was scheduled to take effect on Oct. 15, would broaden the criteria immigration officials can take into account when considering whether an immigrant is likely to become a so-called "public charge" while reviewing his or her immigration status or application for permanent residency. Under the final rule, officials would be able to consider whether immigrants receive:

    • Housing assistance;
    • Medicaid—with a few exceptions for pregnant women, new mothers, children, and adults under age 21, as well as whether the individual is receiving Medicaid benefits to cover an "emergency medical condition" or disability services related to education;
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which often are referred to as "food stamps"; and
    • Welfare.

    Officials under the final rule would be able to deem an individual a public charge if he or she receives one of the qualifying public benefits for 12 months or more in a 36-month period. The final rule states that immigrants who are not citizens or legal residents and who receive or are likely to receive designated public benefits above a specific threshold generally would be ineligible for a change of their status or an extension of stay.

    Federal officials estimate that, under the final rule, the federal government could immediately review the immigration statuses of 382,000 non-citizens. The final rule would not apply to individuals granted political asylum or refugee status, or to the parents or families of children with U.S. citizenship.

    Details on lawsuits

    Thirteen state attorneys general (AGs), led by Washington AG Robert Ferguson (D) and Virginia AG Mark Herring (D), in August a filed lawsuit in Washington challenging the final rule. The lawsuit states, "The rule is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion because—among other reasons—it reverses a decades-old, consistent policy without reasoned analysis." The 13 AGs claim the final rule violates the Immigration and Nationality Act.

    The other 11 state AGs who joined the suit are from Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

    In a separate lawsuit, AGs from California, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., claim the final rule exceeds the administration's authority under federal immigration law and violates the Constitution's equal protection guarantee, as well as the states' rights to protect their residents. The lawsuit, filed in California, argues that the final rule establishes new barriers for eligible immigrants to apply for U.S. citizenship and discourages immigrants from using health and nutrition services. The lawsuit also claims that the final rule's strict standards will result in a majority of eligible immigrants being considered a "public charge."

    Separately, AGs from Connecticut, New York, and Vermont also filed a lawsuit challenging the final rule in New York.

    Judges temporarily block final rule

    U.S. District Judge George Daniels in the Southern District of New York and U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson in the Eastern District of Washington last week issued separate preliminary injunctions blocking the final rule nationwide as the lawsuits challenging the policy proceed.

    In addition, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland last week issued a preliminary injunction temporarily blocking the final rule in California, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

    Daniels in his decision wrote that the administration had provided no legal justification for the final rule and did not explain why the final rule is necessary or reasonable. Daniels wrote that the final rule would replace longstanding immigration laws with a new framework that had "no logic."

    Further, Daniels wrote that, if the final rule goes into effect, it would significantly effect "law-abiding residents who have come to this country to seek a better life."

    Malouf Peterson in her ruling wrote that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had "not cited any statute, legislative history, or other resource that supports the interpretation that Congress has delegated to DHS the authority to expand the definition of who is inadmissible as a public charge or to define what benefits undermine, rather than to promote, the stated goal of achieving self-sufficiency."

    Hamilton in his decision wrote that the administration "acted arbitrarily and capriciously" and violated "the legally-required process to implement the changes they propose" that is required under the Administrative Procedure Act.


    Several observers applauded the rulings.

    New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in a statement said Daniels' ruling is "an important win for our country [that] sends a clear message that we will not allow these hateful policies imposed by the … administration to tear our country apart."

    California AG Xavier Becerra (D) in a statement said Hamilton's ruling stops a "heartless attempt to weaponize essential health care, housing, and nutrition programs."

    New York AG Letitia James (D) said, "Once again, the courts have thwarted the … administration's attempts to enact rules that violate both our laws and our values."

    However, others expressed disappointment over the rulings.

    Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the final rule provides the federal government with a legal method to ensure immigrants can financially support themselves. Cuccinelli in a tweet wrote, "An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law. Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed."

    White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham called the rulings "extremely disappointing" and "the latest inexplicable example of the administration being ordered to comply with the flawed or lawless guidance of a previous administration instead of the actual laws passed by Congress" (Spagat/Hajela, Associated Press, 10/11; Hackman/Kendall, Wall Street Journal, 8/11; Montoya-Galvez, CBS News, 10/11; Wamsley  et al., NPR, 10/11).

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